Jan 31, 2011

Gap Year Fairs Open Doors

Once dust settles from the drama of college admissions, many high school students begin reflecting on whether they’re really ready to charge directly into the demands of postsecondary education.

They find there are alternatives to the 16-year forced march from secondary school to college and start exploring options outside traditional classroom experiences.

For these students, the possibility of taking a "gap year" after high school yet before starting college may be the perfect antidote to the pressures of growing up in a success-oriented culture that placed little emphasis on developing independence and self-confidence or exploring interests outside of academics.

It’s an open secret that the popularity of the gap year experience is growing at an amazing rate in the US, in part because colleges think it’s a really good idea.

In their acceptance letters, Harvard, Princeton, Tufts, and NYU openly encourage students to consider the benefits of taking some time off in the form of a gap year.

In fact, Princeton has taken an even more direct approach by creating a “Bridge Year” program in which the university provides need blind financial aid for a portion of incoming freshmen to participate in nine months of university-sponsored service at one of several international locations including Ghana, India, Peru, and Serbia. Because of the overwhelming success of the program, plans are underway to expand both the locations and availability of Bridge Year opportunities for incoming Princeton students.

A strong proponent of gap year experiences, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, William Fitzsimmons routinely offers gap year opportunities to high school students who start thinking outside the box early. “Normally a total of about fifty to seventy students defer [Harvard] until the next year. The results have been uniformly positive.” He adds, “Many speak of their year away as a ‘life-altering’ experience or a ‘turning point,’ and most feel that its full value can never be measured and will pay dividends the rest of their lives.”

If you’ve started the process of exploring the possibility of taking a gap year before college, you may want to attend one of 30 USA Gap Year Fairs scheduled to take place over the coming months. These events are designed to provide interested students and parents with a broad range of programs and the opportunity to meet with organizations focusing on education, service, and personal grown.

Locally, fairs have been scheduled for February 25th at Georgetown Day School, February 26th at Sidwell Friends School, and February 27th at Wootton High School in Rockville.

Guest speakers will include Karl Haiger and Rae Nelson, authors of “The Gap Year Advantage,” as well as Holly Bull from the Center for Interim Programs.

For more information on times and locations of fairs near you, visit the USA Gap Year Fairs website.

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